By Tara Umm Omar
January 4, 2009
I have been reflecting upon the catalysts behind the Saudi government’s restrictions of Saudis marrying non-Saudis. At least three possible rationale come to mind: 1) it is a concerted effort to discourage Saudis from ever endeavoring to marry non-Saudis 2) to prevent a high incidence of spinsterhood among Saudi women 3) as a response to the repeated occurrence of divorce between Saudis and their foreign spouses which have subsequently lead to custody battles for children and unfortunately, kidnapping. I have yet to discover the historical reasons which prompted the Saudi government to initiate these restrictions.
The entire marriage permission process is so rife with encumbrance that it can be viewed as a collective punishment. Abeer Mishkas, a reporter for Arab News, interviewed a government official for her article “Punishing Saudis Who Marry Foreigners Is Absurd.” He stated that, “…the Ministry [of Interior] had put in place measures and guidelines to limit the ‘negative and harmful aspects of such marriages.’” The three measures this government official dictated to Ms. Mishkas in regards to penalizing those Saudis who marry non-Saudis without prior permission is further evidenced by the Majlis Ash-Shura’s Resolution Number 14: Forming a special committee to consider intensification of punishments against Saudis marrying non-Saudis.
I wonder how all Saudis would react when confronted with a law stating that they could only marry within their tribe and be punished if they dared to marry outside of it? Alia Makki, who blogs at http://hningswara.blogspot.com/, answers this question with other questions , “What does a Non-Saudi have that a Saudi doesn’t, right? Haven’t we all been taught never to judge a book by its cover, and that all men are equal except in merit? Then again, if all really are equal, then why does my country of citizenship forbid us, fellow citizens, to marry only based on that?”
Recently, the Majlis Ash-Shura voted against easing the restrictions for marriages between Saudis and non-Saudis. “Such recommendations would greatly increase the number of Saudis marrying foreigners while we are fully aware of the complications that such marriages create,” said Abdullah Al-Dosary, a council member who voted against the proposal.”
Despite the various obstacles, Saudi men and women are still choosing to marry non-Saudis. What spurs them to do so?
Love knows no boundaries. Tariq fell in love with his American wife. Adnan married for love with a woman who just happened to be an American. For Umm Du’a, it was love at first sight when she laid eyes on her Syrian husband.
Fate happens. MR, whose wife is Chinese, said that he never planned to marry a Saudi or non-Saudi because it is destiny and we don’t know our future. Abu Saleh describes how he met his European wife, “I met my future wife during one of my business trips abroad. She worked in a legal office, which I visited seeking legal advice. I had a chance to talk to her, know her character, manners and I simply knew – she was my “match”. I was sure she would be a good wife and a good mother. We liked each other and felt very comfortable together. I admired her respect and keen interest in Islam, which eventually lead to her becoming a Muslimah alhamdulilaah. It has been eight years since we have been happily married.”
Wanted: Non-Saudi Wife. Abu Sa’ad is a Saudi man who would like to marry a non-Saudi in the future. He cites three reasons to justify his choice 1) Non-Saudis are easier to meet, therefore one knows what they are getting into before they are married 2) Its cheaper and 3) He views the non-Saudi marriage process as being more realistic. He expounded on this issue by saying, “In this time of age, people are more educated and have a broader view of things, so marrying someone with no previous communications or anything of that sort will lead to disappointment.”
Familiarity Brings Comfort. This is exactly why Hning, a Saudi of mixed ancestry, has her heart set on marrying a non-Saudi. She elaborates on why she feels this way, “I want my man to come from where I came from, being an immigrant and a cultural hybrid. I want to spend my life with someone who understands my heritage and traditions, the causes I’m fighting for and where I’m taking my family in principals and practice. Marrying someone who already knows these things saves a lot of time trying to explain and convert each other when one it’s a cross cultural marriage.”
Suits Me To A “T”: Ibn Khalaf has been married to his American wife for six and a half years. What influenced his decision? “I married a non-Saudi because I felt that this would be the kind of woman most suitable for me. Although I didn’t chase the idea at first and was in denial about it until I had the experience of marrying and divorcing a Saudi. After this bad experience, my feelings of a non-Saudi being better for me were amplified. I started to think about it more seriously, in particular, marrying an American. I realized that marrying an American was better for me in terms of better understanding, open-mindedness, how they raise their children, and how they take care of their homes. I have friends married to Saudis, Syrians, Egyptians, British and Americans. I had an idea of some of the issues in their lives and from there I was able to decide what kind of wife would be suitable for me to marry. Once I felt comfortable about my decision, I pursued it.”
What are the factors that propel these Saudis not to venture into conjugal relationships with fellow Saudis? Tariq and Umm Du’a claimed there were no reasons while MR said he did not know. Adnan didn’t make a conscious decision to marry a non-Saudi or an American. Abu Saleh never planned to marry a non-Saudi woman. Ibn Khalaf is an exception, “I chose not to marry another Saudi because I couldn’t afford it. Also, it’s hard to get to know them before having a life together. It’s hard to avoid the Saudi woman’s family interfering in your life. Because the way it is with my American wife, we discuss our issues, decide what to do, we do it together and we don’t have to worry about her family involved in our lives.”
Abu Saad would prefer to marry a woman from the United States. He listed the following points to validate his choice for not wanting to marry a Saudi: 1) It is hard to meet Saudi women. 2) Since he is lived abroad for most of my life, it’s difficult to find someone with similar views, humor, who is broad minded and understanding of him. 3) Marriage expenses in Saudi Arabia are a joke. 4) $Most Saudi women are materialistic$ 5) A lot of Saudi marriages that he is aware of are simply nothing more than a marriage. In his opinion, “The husband goes out, does whatever he wants and comes back late at night expecting his wife to be ready for him. I believe it’s due to not having a common ground or point of interest between the two Saudi spouses. This goes back to the fact of marrying someone you don’t know until after the marriage is complete; and hopefully they would get along a little so that they would stay together.”
If Hning had her way, she’d spare herself from marrying a Saudi and opt for a Javanese. Joking aside, she attributes part of her non-Saudi origins to this attitude by saying, “I’ve been raised in a non-Saudi household, fed non-Saudi food, and speak non-Saudi dialects and languages. I’m your average non-Saudi on every level except the citizenship part. I think I deserve a huge break in marrying a non-Saudi.” On the other hand, Hning is cautious by acknowledging she has no control over her choice of a non-Saudi spouse, “The thing with Rizq is that you don’t really choose. You can plan and pray and perform all you want, while keeping in mind that the Lord has always had an unexpected sense of humor in the way He reminds us of Him: children get in trouble, bankruptcies are filed, and cancers grow. This is applicable to every time choices are mentioned.”
This author established a poll where non-Saudi viewers were asked that after reading about the Saudi marriage permission process, would they still marry a Saudi. As 4 January 2009, 48% said they would still marry a Saudi. 25% percent would only marry a Saudi if they had the marriage permission approval first. The remaining 25% would not marry a Saudi whatsoever.
Marriage should be a personal choice. For marriages between Saudis and non-Saudis, there are restrictions that come with that choice. If a Saudi is insistent on marrying a non-Saudi, the measures in place will definitely not deter him or her. A few reasons that compel Saudis to marry a non-Saudi are for religion, love, compatibility and because it is their destiny. Tribe, race and nationalism do not seem to be at the forefront of these particular Saudis’ decisions to marry a non-Saudi spouse. I propose that the Saudi government conduct a study on whether the effects of regulating such marriages are actually decreasing spinsterhood and not contributing to higher divorce rates.